Aggravating the face-off between the Congress and the Trinamool Congress, Union Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh has shot down West Bengal's demand for financing anew 18,000 km of murram (red sand) roads under the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY).

The West Bengal Road Department Secretary demanded at a meeting that the Ministry refinance the entire murram roads in the State, charging that these had not been constructed during the previous Left Front regime.

Interestingly, Union Minister of State for Rural Development Shishir Adhikari, who belongs to the Trinamool, was not present at the meeting.

Mr. Ramesh, who presided over the review meeting, shot down the proposal and quipped that the Trinamool could consider the proposal should it take over the portfolio of Rural Development Ministry.

The Minister's statement gains significance in the wake of reported statements that the Trinamool was eyeing the Rs. 1 lakh-crore outlay of the Ministry ahead of the panchayat elections in West Bengal.

Mr. Ramesh even went on to add that even if the Trinamool were to head the Ministry, it would not be possible for it to refinance the 18,000 km of roads which had been shown as constructed by the previous government. It would require approval of the Planning Commission and the Cabinet — not an easy task by any means.

He, however, offered the option of allowing upgradation of these roads. The officials agreed to go back to Kolkata and examine the Ministry's offer.

Since 2000, the Centre has sanctioned 16,300 km of road, out of which about 13,000 km covering 6,200 habitations have been constructed.

The construction of rural roads under PMGSY is actually becoming a ticklish issue for the Rural Development Ministry.

The Andhra Pradesh government, led by the Congress, now denies that 4,000 km of roads had been constructed under the Chandrababu Naidu government.